In re Raejean S. Bonham dba World Plus
Bankruptcy No. F95-00897
Unofficial Web Site
This is the transcript of the hearing on June 30, 1998 at which Raejean Bonham changed her plea to guilty as to two counts in the criminal case brought against her by the United States. While, strictly speaking, the criminal case does not directly relate to the bankruptcy proceedings, there is a high level of interest among the creditors as to the criminal case, and her actions at this hearing may have an impact on the BRA cases. The transcript is therefore set out in full.
Please note that the sentencing set for September 23, 1998 has been re-scheduled to October 23, 1998.
FOR THE DISTRICT OF ALASKA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ) vs. ) Case No.: A97-0115-CR
(HRH) RAEJEAN S. BONHAM, )
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
) Case No.: A97-0115-CR (HRH)
RAEJEAN S. BONHAM,
Before the Honorable H. Russell Holland
District Court Judge
For the Plaintiff: Joseph S. Beck, Esq.
U. S. Department of Justice
Criminal Division, Fraud Section
P. O. Box 28188, Central Station
Washington, D.C. 20038
For the Defendant: Sue Ellen Tatter, Esq.
510 "L" Street, Suite 306
Anchorage, Alaska 99501
June 30, 1998
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P R O C E E D I N G S
THE CLERK: All right. His Honor the Court, the United States District Court for the District of Alaska is now in session, the Honorable H. Russell Holland presiding. Please be seated.
THE COURT: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The next matter on our calendar is Case A97-115 Criminal, The United States versus RaeJean Bonham. The matter is before us for a possible change of plea. In connection with this matter I received and reviewed a proposed plea agreement. Ms. Tatter, do we have a signed plea agreement at this point?
MS. TATTER: Yes, I think that the government has a copy of it, or maybe he just forwarded it to --
THE CLERK: -- I placed a -- the original on your bench.
THE COURT: All right, I have -- I have what appears to be a signed original. Have there been any changes made in the form of the agreement between the time that a copy that I have would've been made and what we have in front of us now?
MR. BECK: There's one minor change, Your Honor. I found out that the special assessment is in there incorrectly, it should be $100 as opposed to $50, and we didn't change it but for the record we're both aware that it is $100 and that notation would need to be made on the original. It's in Paragraphs -- Roman numeral V, Paragraph 7, and there's one other place. And Paragraph 4A3 under penalties.
THE COURT: Thank you very much. Would you administer the Oath to Mrs. Bonham, please?
THE CLERK: If you'll please stand and raise your right hand.
MS. BONHAM: (No audible response)
THE CLERK: If you'll please be seated.
called as a witness on her own behalf, testified as follows on
THE CLERK: For the record please state your full name, address, and spell your last name?
A RaeJean, R-A-E-capital-J-E-A-N, Sandra Bonham, B-as in boy, O-N-H-A-M.
THE CLERK: Thank you.
BY THE COURT:
Q Mrs. Bonham, inasmuch as you've been placed under Oath you're obligated to answer the questions that I'm going to put to you truthfully. If you should fail to do that, you could be prosecuted for perjury. Do you understand that?
Q What is your age, please?
Q How far did you go in school?
A Through twelfth grade.
Q Do you read and speak the English language?
Q Have you ever been treated for mental illness or addiction to drugs of any kind?
Q Are you under the influence of any drug, whether prescription or otherwise, at the present time?
A (No audible response)
Q Are you under the influence of any alcoholic beverage at the present time?
A (No audible response)
THE CLERK: Excuse me, Ms. Bonham, if I could get you to speak up a little bit louder, please?
Q Have you received a copy of the indictment which was returned against you by the federal grand jury?
Q Have you personally read it?
Q Have you discussed it with your attorney?
Q Has she answered any questions that you have about the charges?
Q Are you entirely satisfied with the representation which you are receiving from Ms. Tatter in this case?
Q Is the plea agreement that I have in front of me the result of discussions between you and your attorney and your attorney and the government's attorney?
Q Did you read the entirety of the proposed plea agreement yourself before it was signed?
A Yes, I did.
Q And did you have ample opportunity to discuss the terms of that agreement as finalized with Ms. Tatter before you signed it?
Q Now, it's been called to our attention that the plea agreement in two places makes reference to a special assessment of $50 that really should be $100. Do you accept that as an appropriate change to this plea agreement?
A Yes, I do.
Q Do you have any questions about the terms or conditions of the plea agreement at the present time?
Q All right. Now, has Ms. Tatter answered any questions that you had about the agreement before it was signed?
A Yes, she has.
Q Has anyone made any different representations or promises to you about the disposition of your case that are different from what's in this agreement?
Q Has anyone threatened you in any way to get you to sign this agreement?
Q Has anyone coerced you in any way to get you to sign the agreement?
Q Is it voluntary?
Q This agreement calls for certain charges against you to be dismissed, but other than that and as to the charges which you propose to plead guilty this agreement in substance provides that I'm going to sentence you in accordance with the terms of the regulations and rules of the United States Sentencing Commission, do you recall that?
Q Do you understand that if I determine to impose a sentence that's greater than you expect that you're not going to be able to withdraw from this plea agreement?
Q The charges to which you propose to plead guilty constitute felony offenses. A person convicted of a felony offense loses certain civil rights, such as the right to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury or own or possess a gun. Do you understand that you're subject to losing those rights?
A Yes, I do.
Q I need to have some discussion with you about the penalties that the law provides for the two offenses that are subject to this plea agreement. The fact that I have this discussion with you does not -- should not be taken to imply that I'm considering the maximum sentence. I simply have to have this discussion with you about the outside limits are. For a violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1341, which is the -- one of the two charges, the law provides a maximum period of incarceration of five years, a $250,000 fine or twice any gain that was involved, whichever's greater. It calls for a mandatory special assessment of $100, and the possible maximum term of supervised release for this offense is three years. In addition to these considerations, if a person is placed on supervised release and violates the terms of supervised release, that person may be returned to prison for an additional term without any credit for the time spent on supervised release. Also, a person convicted of this kind of offense can be required to make restitution; that is, pay back money that has been obtained. For a violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1956(A)(1)(a), which is the money laundering statute, a person can be imprisoned for a term of up to 20 years, can be fined up to $500,000 or twice the value of property obtained, whichever's greater. Again, a 50 -- again, a $100 special assessment must be imposed by the Court, and here also a term of three years of supervised release is possible, again with provision for imprisonment if the terms and conditions of supervision are not complied with, and also here restitution is possibly an obligation the Court would impose. Do you have any questions about the statutory penalties that are involved in this mail fraud and money laundering offenses?
A No, I do not.
Q Now, I've explained to you what the statutory penalties are. In fact, I will be considering your case and will be imposing a sentence if you plead guilty following the guidelines of the United States Sentencing Commission. Have you discussed with your attorney how those sentencing guidelines are likely to affect your situation?
Q Has Ms. Tatter made an estimate for you of what she thinks your sentence will be under the guidelines?
Q Now, I don't know what that estimate is and it's not necessary that I know that. What you need to understand is that I am not obligated to follow Ms. Tatter's estimate of what the guidelines will call for in your case, do you understand that?
Q There are provisions in the guidelines that set up the possibility of the Court imposing a sentence that is either less or greater than the guidelines would normally call for. The fact, again, that I have this discussion with you should not be taken to mean that I'm considering departing one way or the other in this case, but you need to understand that that is a possibility. Are you aware of that?
Q And have you discussed that possibility with Ms. Tatter?
Q Do you have any questions at this point as to how the guidelines of the Sentencing Commission may affect your case?
Q Next I need to have some discussion with you about the rights that you have in this court. You have the right if you choose to to simply tell me that you don't want anything further to do with this plea agreement and that you want to go to trial. If you were to tell me that, you would be entitled to have a jury decide whether you were guilty or not guilty of the two charges that are involved in this plea agreement as well as all of the other charges that are brought against you. If there were such a trial, you would be entitled to be represented at that trial by your attorney. You would be entitled to see, hear and have your attorney cross examine the government's witnesses. You'd be entitled to call witnesses in your own behalf. You'd be entitled to use court subpoenas to require people to come to court and testify if they did not want to come voluntarily. You'd be entitled to testify yourself in your own behalf, and if you made that decision you would be subject to cross examine -- cross examination just as any other witness is. You would also have the right not to testify, and if you chose not to testify no one could argue that you must be guilty simply because you didn't testify. That's not permitted. If you were tried by a jury and if the jury found that you were guilty you would be entitled to appeal that conviction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if you offer me a plea of guilty and if I accept a plea of guilty that too will result in a conviction just as though the jury had done it, but as a practice matter there isn't any effective appeal from a conviction that comes from your offer and my acceptance of it. Do you understand that?
Q Do you have any questions about the rights that you have in this court?
Q Is it your wish to go ahead with this plea agreement?
A Yes, it is.
Q If there were a trial in this case the government would have to prove four essential elements in order to obtain a conviction with respect to the mail fraud charge which has been discussed in your plea agreement. The government would have to prove that you made up a scheme or plan for obtaining money or property by means of false promises or statements, the government would have to prove that you knew that the promises or statements were false, the government would have to establish that you acted with an intent to defraud people, the government would have to prove that for the purpose of executing the scheme to defraud you knowingly caused an item to be delivered by a commercial interstate carrier. Those are the four elements that would have to be proved to make out a case of mail fraud. As to the money laundering offense the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly conducted or attempted to conduct a financial transaction, the government would have to prove that you knew that the property involved in the financial transaction was the proceeds from some form of unlawful activity, the government would have to prove that the property involved in the financial transactions in fact involved the proceeds of specific unlawful activity, that is mail fraud, and finally the government would have to prove that you engaged in a financial transaction with the intent to promote the carrying on of the specified unlawful activity, again the mail fraud. That's what the government would have to prove. Now, that same information is in the plea agreement that you have signed. That recitation of legal elements of offenses is followed by a factual statement. Would you turn to Page 6 of your plea agreement where that factual statement appears? Do you have that in front of you?
Q There begins in the middle of Page 6 and continuing all the way over to the middle of Page 8 a series of 14 paragraphs that outline the factual circumstances which the government believes it could prove in support of the charges that are brought against you. Have you read those 14 paragraphs yourself?
Q Is the factual information that is set out there all true and correct?
Q Is that what really happened?
THE COURT: I have one question about this aspect of the case. The intent aspects of both offenses is something that is obviously inferred from lots of other evidence. Is there anything more that the government wishes me to know or wishes to put on the record about the intent aspect of this offense beyond what's in the factual statement here?
MR. BECK: I think the factual statement is adequate as to intent because I believe that intent is inferred from the facts as presented and we've set out the scheme as alleged in the indictment.
Q Ms. Bonham, it is my judgment that the factual information that you have set out here would be sufficient for a jury to find that you intended to defraud people. Would you disagree with that proposition?
A No, I would not.
Q All right. And similarly it would appear to me from the factual statements that a jury could infer that you engaged in financial transactions with the intent to promote the carrying on of the mail fraud. Would you agree with me that a jury could infer that from the facts that are set out here also?
Q Mrs. Bonham, this plea agreement involves the dismissal of a large number of charges, and that's something that I have to -- the appropriateness of that is something that I need to give some consideration to. I do not feel that I know enough about you and this situation to make that decision today, so I am not going to make a decision right now about whether to accept or reject this plea agreement. The fact that I put this matter off should not be taken to mean that I have some specific problem with this agreement. I don't have any such problem at the present time. The fact is I simply don't know enough about this situation to make the decision today, so I am going to defer it until our next proceeding. Do you have any questions at all about this proceeding before I ask you what your plea is to these charges?
Q All right. To Count 51 of the indictment, which charges you with mail fraud in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1341, are you guilty or not guilty?
Q With respect to Count 61, which charges the offense of money laundering in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1956(A)(1)(a), are you guilty or not guilty?
THE COURT: Based upon Mrs. Bonham's responses to my questions I'm satisfied that she is competent and capable of entering an informed plea to the charges contained in Counts 51 and 61. I'm satisfied that she's aware of the nature of those charges and of the consequences of a plea of guilty to those charges. I'm satisfied that she has knowingly and voluntarily offered a plea of guilty to Counts 51 and 61. I'm satisfied that there is an independent factual basis for the charges contained in those two counts. Mrs. Bonham's plea of guilty to Counts 51 and 61 are accepted, she is adjudged guilty of those two offenses.
Q Mrs. Bonham, the next step in this procedure is for us to have the probation service prepare a pre-sentence report. That report is the single most important source of information that comes to me in connection with your case. That's where I learn what this offense is about and your involvement in it, so it is really important that that report be complete and accurate. You will be interviewed by a probation officer and it's necessary that you be informative and cooperative with the probation officer. Again, because her report is where I find out about your situation in this offense. The report will come to you in draft form and be viewed by you and your attorney before I see it. You'll have an opportunity to make additions and corrections and so forth. I encourage you to carefully review the report, make suggestions for corrections and additions if you think it's necessary and appropriate, and Ms. Tatter will see that the information is communicated to the probation service. After the report is finalized it will come to me, I will review it, I will receive additional written submissions from the attorneys. We will then have another hearing somewhat like this at which I will hear from the attorneys and you will also have an opportunity at that time to tell me anything that you personally wish to say about your situation before I impose sentence.
THE COURT: With respect to a date for imposition of sentence, I'm looking at September 11. Does anybody have a known problem right now with that date?
MS. TATTER: Your Honor, I'd ask that it be later in September just because I'm committed to take my daughter to college and stay -- I hope it works out, and stay there a little bit. If it could be the third week in September, or the fourth week, I'd appreciate it.
THE COURT: Does the government have any problem with it?
MR. BECK: No, Your Honor. What day of the week does the Court normally --
THE COURT: I normally set sentencings on Thursday or Friday.
MR. BECK: So that's any Thursday or -- Thursday's -- Well, either Thursday or Friday's fine with the government, Your Honor. I'm a little concerned about Mondays because I have to come from Washington, but --
THE COURT: Understood. I've already set something for Thursday in the third week. Well, how about September 23, which is a Wednesday.
MR. BECK: I have no objection, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Ms. Tatter, does that meet your calendar? Okay, imposition of sentence in this case will be on September 23, 1998, at 8:30 a.m. Let's see, one other thing. I have what looks like a somewhat dated pretrial services report. Anyone aware of there having been any difficulties with pretrial release in this case?
MR. BECK: No, Your Honor, and in fact Ms. Bonham received permission to go to Iowa for a family emergency and returned promptly. I don't see where there's any significant change.
THE COURT: All right, Ms. Bonham, I'm going to leave the release arrangements, bail arrangements, whatever they are, just as they are now. That means that whatever conditions or obligations as far as reporting and so forth that you are subject to right now will stay the same at least up to the date for sentencing, September 23. If you are obligated to check in with the probation service you must continue doing the same -- same thing. The fact that you will be in release status pending imposition of sentence means that it will be your obligation to appear here for sentencing on September 23. If you should fail to appear for imposition of sentence you could be charged with an offense for failing to appear and I would certainly issue a bench warrant for your arrest if you did not show up on that date. So it is necessary that you be here on that date.
Anything further we need to do at this time?
MS. TATTER: Yes, Your Honor, I have two requests. The first one -- Both of which have been discussed with Counsel. There's litigation about this matter in Fairbanks and I've been subpoenaed to appear at a custodial records deposition and bring with me all my discovery materials in this civil case in Fairbanks, and both the prosecutor and I agree that material I've gotten in discovery with -- in response to grand jury subpoenas shouldn't be discovered by extra people out there in the civil arena and we would both join in requesting a protective order which I can submit to the court.
THE COURT: Is the litigation in which you have been subpoenaed in federal or state court?
MS. TATTER: State court. I mean, you could --
THE COURT: It gets a little sensitive sometimes when I start playing the role of telling the state court what they can or cannot do --
MS. TATTER: But you just tell me what to do as an officer of the court, whether or not I should turn over documents that I got pursuant to a federal grand jury.
THE COURT: Well, I don't disagree with the position that you're taking, but I'm a little hesitant to do that without the state -- or, whoever's involved in the state court proceeding having had an opportunity to say something about it.
MS. TATTER: Well, then I'll withdraw the request and I think the prosecutor and I can work together and try to figure some independent way, an alternative way to deal with it.
THE COURT: Yes, I don't mean to try and practice law for you all, but it seems to me that a motion to quash the subpoena at least in part in state court would be a way to go and would not me in the position of appearing to mess with the state court process, which I'm reluctant to do but will do if it becomes a problem and I become convinced that what you suspect is correct and I suspect is correct also. If you can't get it resolved in state court --
MS. TATTER: -- All right, I think --
THE COURT: -- I will -- I will --
MS. TATTER: -- Try other means --
THE COURT: -- hear you all.
MS. TATTER: The second request I have is just personal to me concerning attorney's fees. We signed a retainer agreement that wasn't met and Ms. Bonham's relatives have been paying me sporadically but the money has run out quite a while ago and her relatives are not able to keep -- I mean, they just cannot keep doing this, and she has obviously no resources of her own, being in bankruptcy, and she just had to sell -- or, give up her house the other day. I'd request to be appointed as a CJA person from now 'til sentencing.
THE COURT: If you will -- If you will supply us with the financial affidavit that normally lies behind that kind of appointment, I will certainly consider making that appointment. And in the process of doing that, if you would make it clear to me what the starting point is supposed to be as far as your CJA appointment, if it isn't obvious, I will take that up. Anything else? Anything from the government?
MR. BECK: A couple things, Your Honor. The Court didn't touch on it, and in the plea agreement the paragraph Roman numeral II, large D, is a little bit different of a restitution scheme than what is sometimes contemplated because I believe that it requires the Court to enter a restitution order no matter what the Defendant's financial circumstances are, and we've discussed that. I would like the record to reflect that that is at least the government's interpretation of it.
THE COURT: I'm having a little trouble finding where you are. Would you give me that paragraph --
MR. BECK: Be Page 2, in the middle of the page, it'd be Paragraph D.
THE COURT: I'm sorry, I heard you say B, and it --
MR. BECK: -- Oh, excuse me.
THE COURT: -- it didn't compute. All right, I'm with you now. What is it that you think needs to be done at this point?
MR. BECK: I don't think anything needs to be done with it, I just -- I just want, you know, it to be clear on the record what the contemplation is. The --
THE COURT: Well, Ms. Tatter, is there any issue here? Is there any question about restitution being a serious factor in this case?
MS. TATTER: No.
THE COURT: All right.
MR. BECK: The second thing is, and I'm -- My position isn't any different than Ms. Tatter's on this discovery material, but I do think the Court, pursuant to Rule 6E and Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, certainly has the right to regulate discovery, and the government provided those materials to Ms. Tatter pursuant to those rules and in fact what we've provided and allowed her to copy did in fact come through -- come to us via a grand jury subpoena, and I'm very troubled that this might end up in state court.
THE COURT: I don't have any difficulty with your being troubled over it. The only thing I have difficulty about is making a decision on it out of the presence and without any participation whatever from the people who are trying to subpoena the documents.
MR. BECK: And the Court had -- Well, I'll skip that, that's --
THE COURT: I guess we're through. Thank you very much, we'll be in recess subject to call.
THE CLERK: Your Honor, will the trial date be vacated?
THE COURT: Thank you. Trial date is vacated.
THE CLERK: All right. This matter's adjourned and the Court now stands in recess until 4:00 p.m.
END OF PROCEEDINGS
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